If Dudley's friends saw him sitting there, they would be sure to make a beeline for him, and what would Dudley do then? He wouldn't want to lose face in front of the gang, but he'd be terrified of provoking Harry ... it would be really fun to watch Dudley's dilemma, to taunt him, watch him, with him powerless to respond ... and if any of the others tried hitting Harry, he was ready – he had his wand. Let them try ... he'd love to vent some of his frustration on the boys who had once made his life hell. (1.72)
Harry's getting into really dangerous territory here. Yes, Dudley has treated him badly in the past. But Harry is enjoying the idea of using his magic on Muggles who can't defend themselves. He wants to "vent some of his frustration" on people who are powerless to respond. How far away is Harry's reasoning from that of the Death Eaters who indulge in some Muggle-baiting at the Quidditch World Cup at the beginning of Book Four? The difference between Harry and those Death Eaters is that Harry doesn't give in to his wish to bully his cousin and his Muggle friends. Still, Harry's anger is leading him down a path that could turn to a Dark wizard anti-Muggle place if he isn't careful.
Halfway down the hall was a fountain. A group of golden statues, larger than life-size, stood in the middle of a circular pool. Tallest of them all was a noble-looking wizard with his wand pointing straight up in the air. Grouped around him were a beautiful witch, a centaur, a goblin and a house-elf. The last three were all looking adoringly up at the witch and wizard. Glittering jets of water were flying from the ends of their wands, the point of the centaur's arrow, the tip of the goblin's hat and each of the house-elf's ears, so that the tinkling hiss of falling water was added to the pops and cracks of the Apparators and the clatter of footsteps as hundreds of witches and wizards, most of whom were wearing glum, early-morning looks, strode towards a set of golden gates at the far end of the hall. (7.66)
This statue at the front of the Ministry of Magic demonstrates the Ministry's official opinion on the status of the different magical creatures in the wizarding world. At the center is a "noble-looking wizard," with a beautiful witch next to him. Then, beneath these magical folk are three creatures looking "adoringly up." Now, a centaur is half-human, half-horse, so how a centaur could look up at a wizard and a witch, we don't know. But this condescending view of house-elves, centaurs, and goblins – that they must all look up to magical humans – underlines Bill Weasley's suspicions in Chapter 5 that the goblins, fed up with mainstream wizard prejudice, might join Voldemort out of desperation. What is more, this statue also suggests that Professor Umbridge's prejudices about half-humans – and perhaps about all magical creatures – is more widespread than magical folk might like to think.
"I think we might have a record of it if someone had ordered a pair of dementors to go strolling through Little Whinging!" barked Fudge.
"Not if the dementors are taking orders from someone other than the Minsitry of Magic these days," said Dumbledore calmly. "I have already given you my views on this matter, Cornelius."
"Yes, you have," said Fudge forcefully, "and I have no reason to believe that your views are anything other than bilge, Dumbledore. The dementors remain in place in Azkaban and are doing everything we ask them to." (8.108-110)
Fudge has an obvious problem with logic. Because the Ministry has no record of dementors being sent to Little Whinging, he cannot believe that anyone in the Ministry can have made the order to the dementors. But he also refuses to entertain the possibility that the dementors are acting on their own, largely because he doesn't want that to be true. He insists that (a) he has absolute control over the Ministry, and (b) the Ministry has absolute control over the dementors. Later, we learn that neither is true: Dolores Umbridge did order the dementors to Little Whinging, and the dementors have gone over to join Voldemort. Fudge is living in a world made up of things he chooses to believe are facts, because to believe otherwise would mean admitting that he has lost control of both the extremist elements in the Minsitry and the dementors of Azkaban. How does J.K. Rowling depict politicians in the Harry Potter novels? What kind of general critique of career politicians does she offer in her representation of Fudge and Professor Umbridge?
"I don't think private matters between myself and the Minister are any concern of yours, Potter," said [Lucius] Malfoy, smoothing the front of his robes. Harry distinctly heard the gentle clinking of what sounded like a full pocket of gold. "Really, just because you are Dumbledore's favorite boy, you must not expect the same indulgence from the rest of us ... shall we go up to your office, then, Minister?" (9.26)
Lucius Malfoy's words to Harry must be music to Cornelius Fudge's ears, since Fudge is trying to encourage the world to hate and distrust Harry, and Lucius Malfoy clearly already does. What is more, Malfoy's "full pocket of gold," which seems connected to the "private matters" between Malfoy and Fudge, indicates the strong corruption in Fudge's administration. Malfoy's deep pockets are allowed to influence Fudge's policy. What lessons might J.K. Rowling be trying to teach about the dangers of money and influence in politics? What problems do you see in Malfoy's ways of interacting with the Minister for Magic?
Every headmaster and headmistress of Hogwarts has brought something new to the weighty task of governing this historic school, and that is as it should be, for without progress there will be stagnation and decay. There again, progress for progress's sake must be discouraged, for our tried and tested traditions often require no tinkering. A balance, then, between old and new, between permanence and change, between tradition and innovation ... (11.92)
Professor Umbridge addresses the students and staff of Hogwarts at the Welcome Feast. She uses a lot of abstract and elusive language – what is this "progress" that she might want to discourage? What balance does she want to strike "between permanence and change"? The point is, it doesn't matter what she calls tradition and what she calls innovation. The important thing is that Professor Umbridge thinks she can identify what "must be discouraged" in the running of Hogwarts. She has total confidence in her own abilities, which is dangerous.
"Oh, no," said Umbridge, smiling so widely that she looked as though she had just swallowed a particularly juicy fly. "Oh, no, no, no. This is your punishment for spreading evil, nasty, attention-seeking stories, Mr. Potter, and punishments certainly cannot be adjusted to suit the guilty one's convenience. No, you will come here at five o'clock tomorrow, and the next day, and on Friday too, and you will do your detentions as planned. I think it rather a good thing that you are missing something you really want to do. It ought to reinforce the lesson I am trying to teach you." (13.149)
In Book 4, Harry must confront a villain who is fanatically devoted to a cause. Whatever else you may say about Barty Crouch, Jr., he really, really believes in Voldemort. But in this book, the main antagonist doesn't truly seem to care about Truth, Justice, and the values of the Ministry of Magic – she's all too willing to use Veritaserum to force the truth out of Harry about Dumbledore and Sirius Black, which is strictly against Ministry policy. The only thing that seems to be driving Professor Umbridge is her eagerness to cause people suffering and pain. Her wide smile when she gets to refuse Harry his Quidditch practice is totally self-serving and sadistic. It's this trait that makes Professor Umbridge so repellent: with characters like Barty Crouch, Jr., who truly believe in what they are doing, you can understand why they do evil, even if you don't agree. But Professor Umbridge just seems like a petty, self-indulgent sadist. She appears to be evil for the sheer pleasure and power of it, which is just – revolting.
BY ORDER OF THE HIGH INQUISITOR OF HOGWARTS All student organizations, societies, teams, groups and clubs are henceforth disbanded. An organization, society, team, group or club is hereby defined as a regular meeting of three or more students. (17.4)
In the first amendment to the US Constitution, Americans are guaranteed the right to freedom of assembly. Of course, this is Britain and also the wizarding world, so those laws don't exactly apply here. But the civics lesson is the same: why is the right to assemble so important? And why is it so threatening to Professor Umbridge?
"You applied for the Defense Against the Dark Arts post, I believe?" Professor Umbridge asked Snape.
"Yes," said Snape quietly.
"But you were unsuccessful."
Snape's lip curled.
Professor Umbridge scribbled on her clipboard.
"And you have applied regularly for the Defense Against the Dark Arts post since you first joined the school, I believe?"
"Yes," said Snape quietly, barely moving his lips. He looked very angry.
"Do you have any idea why Dumbledore has consistently refused to appoint you?" asked Umbrdige.
"I suggest you ask him," said Snape jerkily. (17.137-146)
We have to give Professor Umbridge credit for one thing: it takes guts to make Professor Snape angry. We would probably avoid it at all costs, but she just barges right in, asking him questions about why he hasn't been appointed Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor. She must really have an overinflated sense of her own authority. At any rate, Professor Umbridge is clearly probing Professor Snape's associations with Dark magic. Her interview with Professor Snape reminds us that she still seems to believe that she is on the side of righteousness – even if she's willing to use any means necessary to achieve her goals.
As a matter of fact, Minerva, it was you who made me see that we needed a further amendment ... you remember how you overrode me, when I was unwilling to allow the Gryffindor Quidditch team to re-form? How you took the case to Dumbledore, who insisted that the team be allowed to play? Well, now, I couldn't have that. I contacted the Minister at once, and he quite agreed with me that the High Inquisitor has to have the power to strip pupils of privileges, or she – that is to say, I – would have less authority than common teachers! (19.141)
This exchange between Professor McGonagall and Professor Umbridge really drives home how petty Umbridge is: she is so annoyed that Professor McGonagall overruled her about a Quidditch team that she actually goes to the Minister for Magic to get more official power for her role as High Inquisitor. What kind of a government structure is this, that the Minister for Magic has the time to intervene directly in the running of a school? Do you get a sense of how big (or small) the wizarding world is? How does their government work?
It was true that Harry was the subject of much renewed muttering and pointing in the corridors these days, yet he thought he detected a slight difference in the tone of the whisperers' voices. They sounded curious rather than hostile now, and once or twice he was sure he overheard snatches of conversation that suggested that the speakers were not satisfied with the Prophet's version of how and why ten Death Eaters had managed to break out of the Azkaban fortress. In their confusion and fear, these doubters now seemed to be turning to the only other explanation available to them: the one that Harry and Dumbledore had been expounding since the previous year. (25.48)
The Azkaban prison breakout is the beginning of a change in public opinion in both Harry and Dumbledore's favor. The problem for the Ministry of Magic is that they can only control information so long as the public wants to believe their stories. It seems comforting to dismiss Harry and Dumbledore's account of the return of Voldemort, since Voldemort means war. But once the Death Eaters break out of Azkaban, the public no longer wants to believe that Voldemort has not come back. They want an explanation for the mass breakout, and Voldemort seems more realistic than outright denial. In a sense, this gives us hope: good P.R. and propaganda only work for so long before people start demanding real answers.
Rita gave Hermione a long, hard look. Then, leaning forwards across the table towards her, she said in a businesslike tone, "All right, Fudge is leaning on the Prophet, but it comes to the same thing. They won't print a story that shows Harry in a good light. Nobody wants to read it. It's against the public mood. This last Azkaban breakout has got people quite worried enough. People just don't want to believe You-Know-Who's back."
"So the Daily Prophet exists to tell people what they want to hear, does it?" said Hermione scathingly.
Rita sat up straight again, her eyebrows raised, and drained her glass of Firewhiskey.
"The Prophet exists to sell itself, you silly girl," she said coldly. (25.211-214)
Book 4 contains a much longer critique of journalism than Book 5. Still, Rita Skeeter's extremely pragmatic view of the newspaper business ("The Prophet exists to sell itself") is interesting. The Daily Prophet presents people with news they want to hear, with stories that'll sell. But since the Daily Prophet has so much influence on public opinion, don't they also have a responsibility to be balanced and fair in their reporting? The Daily Prophet’s slanted reporting demonstrates how much damage newspapers with an agenda can do to the political situation in a country. As for Rita Skeeter herself, she just wants to report what'll get her the most fame – whether it's true or not. But since she's so businesslike, it's pretty easy for Hermione to manipulate her into working for them. After all, Rita Skeeter isn't committed to a particular point of view; she'll report anything as long as she can make a name for herself doing it.
"I have testimony from Willy Widdershins, Minerva, who happened to be in the bar at the time. He was heavily bandaged, it is true, but his hearing was quite unimpaired," said Umbridge smugly. "He heard every word Potter said and hastened straight to the school to report to me —"
"Oh, so that's why he wasn't prosecuted for setting up all those regurgitating toilets!" said Professor McGonagall, raising her eyebrows. "What an interesting insight into our justice system!" (27.156-157)
Professor Umbridge is presenting evidence of how she knows that the D.A. has been meeting for the past six months. She is using testimony from a criminal who appears to have avoided prosecution in exchange for his word against Harry. Now, Professor McGonagall finds this exchange totally corrupt. But (at least according to all of the Law and Order we've watched) it's pretty common to swap testimony against other criminals in exchange for a lighter sentence for yourself. Do you think this is a corrupt practice? How does Professor Umbridge's particular deal with Willy Widdershins seem unfair?
The upshot of it all was that Professor Umbridge spent her first afternoon as Headmistress running all over the school answering the summonses of other teachers, none of whom seemed able to rid their rooms of the fireworks without her. When the final bell rang and they were heading back to Gryffindor Tower with their bags, Harry saw, with immense satisfaction, a disheveled and soot-blackened Umbridge tottering sweaty-faced from Professor Flitwick's classroom. (28.99)
Professor Umbridge has been working hard to seize ultimate authority at Hogwarts and now, after getting Dumbledore dismissed from the school, she finally finds the power she's been seeking. But we also see the unexpected drawback with being a power-hungry control-freak. If she keeps insisting that the teachers respect her authority, then they have the leeway to leave everything of importance – including rogue fireworks in classrooms – to Professor Umbridge's personal attention. In short, if you're not willing to delegate and allow other people to do their jobs, you may find yourself "tottering sweaty-faced" from running around doing other people's jobs.
"The Cruciatus Curse ought to loosen your tongue," said Umbridge quietly.
But Umbridge took no notice. There was a nasty, eager, excited look on her face that Harry had never seen before. (32.197-199)
Here's the moment when we really see that all of the rules Professor Umbridge pretends to care about don't mean a d--n compared to her pleasure in gaining power (physical, emotional, whatever) over other people. She's willing to break the Ministry's laws – and she's done it before, by ordering two dementors to Little Whinging to attack Harry Potter. Professor Umbridge isn't a fanatical believer, the way Death Eaters like Bellatrix Lestrange are. She's just attracted to authority because it gets her what she wants: power over weaker people.
"Fine," said Hermione, now sobbing into her hands again. "Fine ... let them see [the weapon], I hope they use it on you! In fact, I wish you'd invite loads and loads of people to come and see! Th - that would serve you right – oh, I'd love it if the wh - whole school knew where it was, and how to u - use it, and then if you annoy any of them they'll be able to s - sort you out!"
These words had a powerful impact on Umbridge: she glanced swiftly and suspiciously around at her Inquisitorial Squad, her bulging eyes resting for a moment on Malfoy, who was too slow to disguise the look of eagerness and greed that had appeared on his face. (32.231-232)
Professor Umbridge manages to draw people like Draco and Argus Filch to her side because she lets them do what they've always wanted to do: bully other people freely, without being punished. Draco loves being able to lord it over the other prefects, and especially the Gryffindors. And Filch is happy at last to be allowed to whip the students as he has always dreamed. But they're not connected by the bonds of loyalty and friendship. Professor Umbridge knows that Draco would double-cross her in a hot second if he thought he could profit by it. So, she has no one to rely on at all – a fear that Hermione plays on in this scene, when she invents a super-weapon to lure Professor Umbridge alone into the Forbidden Forest.